KERA to take over management of WRR, Dallas’ classical music radio station
KERApublic radio and television operator in North Texas, is about to take over the management of WRR-FM (101.1)the Dallas classical music station. Dallas Office of Arts and Culture accepted KERA’s proposal and the Dallas City Council will vote in June. If approved by the city council, KERA would be in charge from December.
Under the agreement, WRR will be managed by KERA, but will be owned by the city. WRR will remain a classical music station and operate from its Fair Park studios for at least the next seven years.
KERA beat the Dallas Symphony Association, which also submitted a proposal for the management of the WRR. “We have the highest regard for KERA, and we have no doubt that they will do a good job running the station,” DSO President and CEO Kim Noltemy said in a statement.
WRR was unusual for being both a city-owned radio station and a commercial conventional station. It relied on on-air advertising, which proved difficult due to its relatively small share of the local radio audience. After eight years of losing WRR, Dallas began looking for a new direction last June.
Jennifer Scripps, the city’s former director of arts and culture, said at the time that the WRR’s continued deficits, along with growing competition from alternative sources of classical music online, prompted a reconsideration of the relationship of the city with the WRR.
“The economy continues to be a challenge, with the rise of streaming and the like,” she said. “What are the options for a strategic partner? Most radio stations do not have the [city-owned] station retirement charge.
“We’re very interested in exploring a new model, because it’s not sustainable to keep tapping into reserves.”
WRR will become non-commercial under KERA. This will allow it to be more sustainable, says Nico Leone, President and CEO of KERA. “Classical music is still doing very well in public radio, partly because there’s a slightly different business model.” With the new model, WRR could attract additional philanthropic support. It will also have to organize membership campaigns of the public radio type.
The station complements KERA’s existing public television, news and information radio offerings; another radio (KXT) playing “a unique mix of new, local and legendary music”; and the arts site Art & Research. (KERA and The Dallas Morning News are collaborating on a series to document the impact of the pandemic on North Texas arts and culture.)
“WRR has strong staff. They do a great job in the community,” says Leone. “We think we can take that and build on it partly through our other platforms. There are a lot of great programs in the non-commercial space that we can provide.
Legally, KERA cannot speak with WRR staff members before the city council vote. But Leone stresses that the station will remain programmed and hosted locally.
However, members of Friends of the WRR, an association that supports the station, are concerned. Rachael Glazer, Chair of the Board, is concerned about the following sentence in the request for proposal (RFP) launched last June: “If the operating and capital reserves of the station were exhausted, the City could not require that it remain a traditional station.
Glazer thinks this means the city would sell the station if new management were unable to make WRR profitable.
But a KERA spokeswoman said that phrase was not in the contract approved by KERA and the Dallas Office of Arts and Culture. The contract stipulates that the station must remain classic, and there are no financial conditions attached to the requirement.
Special Contributor Scott Cantrell contributed to this report.